Friday, March 17, 2006

GRAMMAR: when -er goes bad... (adjectives, comparative/superlative)

Almost everyday, as I drive east on Madison Avenue approaching Main Street, I see a small sign on a vinyl picket fence surrounding a manufactured home dealer's lot - the sign reads: "new and newer homes from $100,000"

Okay, I get it, new and newer homes, that's great. But, wait! Hold the horses! What have we here but another example of English grammar gone bad.

We've all been taught about comparative and superlative adjective forms in school. You know, the -er (comparative) and -est (superlative) forms of descriptive words. Whether we still remember what they were called is another matter. The basic construction was simple. Let's say there's something big, but then there's another item that is more big, we just call it bigger. Then lo and behold, there's another item that is bigger than all the others, which we call the biggest - the most big. Got it - big, bigger, biggest. Works with a whole slew of other adjectives (mostly of the one-syllable or ends in -y two-syllable varieties). Let's give it a try:

small, smaller, smallest (small, more small, most small)
cold, colder, coldest (as above...)
smart, smarter, smartest
dirty, dirtier, dirtiest
silly, sillier, silliest

Now what about that sign advertising new and newer homes? What's gone wrong there? How can something be newer than new? Those of us who've ever looked into home ownership understand that something advertised as "newer" really means that it's old (or used, if you prefer), but just not as old something older. Ah yes, confusing. I'm actually confusing myself a little as I type this.

So let's break it down:

A new house = a new house, simple; a house that has just been built and no one has lived in it
A newer house = an older house than a new house but not as old as an old house; a house that has been previously owned and/or lived in, but only a little bit!
The newest house = either the single new house among newer houses or a house with the most recent completion date among a group of other houses (whether new or not)

I hope this gave you a new (or newer) perspective on the English language.


Joey said...

You're right, I'm thoroughly confused too. Seems interesting that "newer" is actually older than "new", even the -er ending usually signifies a superlative (i think that's right) form of the adjective. Ah well, reading your article!

Anonymous said...

What gets me is when someone says something is a "small little" thing. It's either small or little, can't be both, in my opinion. Anyone agree???

Anonymous said...

Apparently no answers.

I suppose most bloggers don't even recognize bad grammar when they read it or hear it.

My other gripe is when someone says a certain actor/actress is
"well casted" in a role. The correct form is when someone is
"cast" in a part. Everyone should know that but this "casted" stuff appears all the time when show biz talk happens.